Honorable Minister of Agriculture,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Dr Jacques Diouf, I would like to express my profound gratitude to Your Excellency, Chairman of the Agriculture Ministers’ Meeting for extending to FAO the honor and privilege to address this august body. FAO has been a dialogue partner of the GMS countries and the Asian Development Bank since the inception workshop of the Agriculture Working Group in July 2002 in Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic. We greatly value and respect your cooperation in the common endeavor to assist the countries in the subregion in agriculture and rural development for improving people’s livelihoods and living standards in general and eradicating poverty and hunger in particular.
The Greater Mekong subregion is an economically thriving region today. All member countries are achieving reasonable rates of growth and some have witnessed unprecedented double-digit growth. The agricultural sector contributed to that growth. It still employs half of the economically active population and provides livelihoods for millions of farmers, especially the poorest of the poor, in addition to its essential role in meeting the need for food and nutrition for the ever expanding population.
The food and agriculture sector is undergoing tremendous transformation in most countries. Use of science and technology has increased, the choice of crops and enterprises are guided by market demand within the country’s borders as well as beyond, new commercial partnerships are being forged and new agro-industries are being developed to produce new products and help generate income. The agriculture sector is now facing pressure to be more efficient and competitive in the wake of global trade liberalization. It faces a shortage of water and increasing costs of inputs. Labour costs are increasing as the younger generation is lured by the attraction of cities and non-agricultural jobs. The sector also faces the effects of environmental degradation, adding to the costs and affecting yields adversely.
Let us not forget that there are substantial disparities across countries in the subregion. In some countries the potential of agriculture remains largely untapped due to institutional and policy constraints and lack of investment in the sector. Thus, the agriculture sector today faces not only immense opportunities but a host of new challenges. Utilizing these opportunities and addressing these challenges requires a balanced approach that takes into account not only the growth objective but also equity and sustainability considerations. Based on the review of these opportunities and challenges and the overarching framework to deal with them, FAO has identified six thematic priority areas for the Asia-Pacific region. I enumerated them in my statement at the Development Partners’ Dialogue yesterday. I showed the close link and synergy between FAO’s regional strategic priorities and the Core Agriculture Support Program developed by the Working Group on Agriculture under GMS Economic Cooperation Program.
This clearly indicates the opportunities and possibilities to work together so that our individual comparative advantages can be utilized for greater value creation than by acting separately. FAO has the range of international technical expertise in diverse fields of agriculture. Presently, FAO is executing 59 country specific and 21 regional technical assistance projects in five GMS member countries. In addition, it is implementing 13 country level and 17 regional special projects to provide emergency and post-emergency assistance. The total value of all these projects funded from FAO’s own resources under the Technical Cooperation Programme and from donors’ contributions is approximately US$ 92 million.
Honorable Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,
FAO has been alerting world leaders and its development partners about the declining share of investment in agriculture. Both the national resources and international commitments, in terms of Official Development Assistance, (ODA), which are closely linked in many countries, have declined over the years. We believe that a reversal in this trend is a must if the agriculture sector is to survive and thrive in a competitive environment. I am confident that your Excellencies are aware of this reality and doing your best to address this issue.
I take this opportunity to express FAO’s solidarity and full cooperation with the GMS countries, the Asian Development Bank with whom we have been collaborating for many years and other development partners and organizations present here in carrying out programmes and projects for agriculture and rural development in the subregion. FAO wants to remain an effective partner and contribute its share in achieving the objectives of the Core Agriculture Support Program which, as I already mentioned, has similar thrusts as FAO’s regional strategic priorities.
I thank you all for your kind attention and consideration.